Alicia Vikander exposes the absurdities of fame

HBO’s new series Irma Vep, starring Swedish Academy Award-winner Alicia Vikander, is clever satire of the entertainment industry… with a psychological twist.

The series, which premieres Monday June 6 at 9pm, is mostly in English with some French subtitles. It is based on the 1996 film of the same name, which followed a film crew led by an unpredictable director as they remade a 1915 French noir called Les Vampires about a group of criminals including Irma Vep, who wore a black catsuit.

The Irma Vep series has a similar premise updated for modern times. Vikander plays Mira, an American actress who is on a press tour to promote Doomsday, a superhero film in which she stars. Her agent Zelda (Carrie Brownstein) wants her to keep doing more superhero fare, but Mira is disillusioned with her career. So she decides to live in Paris to star in an elaborate gothic remake of the French noir film Les Vampires, in which she will play Irma Vep, whom she describes as “the evil muse of a criminal gang”.

Alicia Vikander in a catsuit walking on a bridge with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
Alicia Vikander as American actress Mira, who plays the character Irma Vep, sneaks around Paris in a catsuit.
Photo by Carole Bethuel/HBO
Alicia Vikander and Adria Arjona are sitting together on a couch.
Mira (Alicia Vikander, right) with her ex Lori (Adria Arjona, left) in “Irma Vep”.
Photo by Carole Bethuel/HBO

Mira has just broken up with her ex-assistant Lori (Adria Arjona); meanwhile her ex-boyfriend, an actor (Tom Sturridge), is also in Paris and turns her personal life into a maze. Desperate director Rene Vidal (Vincent Macaigne) struggles with depression and wants to stay so close to the original Les Vampires that many of his actors have trouble understanding their character’s motivations.

Like all TV shows about making Miscellaneous Shows or movies, “Irma Vep” is meta and pokes fun at the absurdities of the entertainment industry. Aside from the surreal nature of seeing a famous actress, Vikander, play the famous actress Mira – adept at navigating through on-screen press interviews (much like Vikander himself in real life) – “Irma Vep” also contains scenes from actors , discussing their characters’ motives (while Rene yells back, “Next time you say ‘motives’, I’ll strangle you!”). As one scene-stealing actor (played by Lars Eidinger) says, “I was out of action for a full 24 hours.” There’s also a lot of screw-and-screw scenes about what it takes to pull off a project like Irma Vep .

Alicia Vikander sits on a chair in a large fancy room.
Alicia Vikander as Mira in Irma Vep.
Photo by Carole Bethuel/HBO
Rene (Vincent Macaigne) talks to Mira (Alicia Vikander) in a field outside.
Rene (Vincent Macaigne) directs Mira (Alicia Vikander) in Irma Vep.
Photo by Carole Bethuel/HBO

It’s impossible for a show like this to avoid navel-gazing territory, but that’s the nature of the genre. Irma Vep is consistently entertaining and imbued with a sense of playful unpredictability, with scenes shifting in tone from black humor to melancholy. Because the story often jumps from Mira or Rene to scenes of the noir film in the show (which includes top hats, dungeons, and grandiose dialogue like “I am the vampire’s great inquisitor”) — it can sometimes feel like the series is throwing its nets in many different directions. But it’s never confusing and keeps viewers engaged as Mira’s story begins to reflect her character. The transporting images of Paris are also a nice touch.

Vikander plays Mira as jaded and lopsided in a “been there, done it before” sort of way. Her American accent is halting at times, but doesn’t detract much from an otherwise playful performance that sees her melt into character.

For those who enjoy shows like Extras and Call My Agent or movies like Birdman, Irma Vep is a welcome addition to the film and TV industry’s self-revolving genre.

Leave a Comment